How many of us awaken refreshed every morning after a night of sound sleep? We live during stressful times, and insomnia is a complaint frequently heard in the acupuncture clinic. Western medicine has very little to offer in the way of relief. Antidepressant medication is helpful in some cases, but generally, drug therapy causes drowsiness, interferes with the quality of sleep, and can cause rebound insomnia unless ever higher doses are taken. What does acupuncture have to offer?

Acupuncture has an extremely calming effect on the nervous system, and over time, it can help to correct the imbalances causing insomnia without creating side effects. In fact, besides improved sleep, people often report a greater sense of well-being and an overall improvement in health. Acupuncture, as many know, involves the insertion of very fine needles into specific points on the surface of the body. These points lie along conduits of energy called meridians. When these points are stimulated, beneficial mental and physical changes occur.

To those trained in the Western analytical tradition, it is often puzzling that points on the body’s surface can affect the psyche, but Chinese medicine does not recognize the mind-body duality that has influenced Western scientific thinking since at least the time of Descartes. It also does not agree with the notion, common in the West, that consciousness is merely the product of chemical interactions in the brain. Chinese medical theory grew out of the insights of ancient Taoist philosophers, who felt all the phenomena of nature and mind were interconnected. They were manifestations of one essence, called qi. This concept is not at all foreign to modern physics, which sees matter and energy as two aspects of one reality.

Chinese medicine comprehends the mind-body metaphorically, and according to theory, mental activity and consciousness “reside” in the Heart. The heart pumps the blood, but it is also the seat of awareness and higher mental functions. When insomnia is treated, points on the heart or pericardium meridians are commonly chosen. Interestingly, some of the points that calm the mind also have the effect of helping the heart to pump blood more efficiently.

Points on other meridians are chosen as well. Chinese medicine recognizes many forms of insomnia, and each is treated with a different combination of points, as well as different herbal formulas. In fact, treatments are tailored to meet the needs of each individual. Chinese medicine recognizes that each individual is unique. Each form of insomnia has as many variations on the theme as there are people who suffer from it.

Sleep disturbances sometimes require a combination of therapies. In addition to acupuncture, psychological counseling and lifestyle changes may be needed as well. However, in many cases, acupuncture alone can help to improve sleep patterns, and it almost always helps to improve a person’s ability to deal with stress.